Outline of District or Joint Library Plan


For further detail see Chapter 8 of Hennen’s Public Library Planner

Steps in District Establishment

The steps will vary depending upon the legal structures in each state, of course.  Be sure to check that a district or joint library is permissible in your state.

  1. A library planning committee representative of all municipalities involved formulates a plan or joint library agreement which addresses the following:
  2. The names of the municipalities that will be members of the joint public library.
  3. The statutory authority under which the joint library will be established.
  4. The size of the joint library board and proportionate distribution of the members among the participating municipalities.
  5. The method by which a school district administrator, or representative shall be appointed.. (In states that require such appointment).
  6. The initial terms of office which will be assigned to each board member.
  7. The designated municipality to be responsible for paying bills and custody of library funds.
  8. The disposition of existing and future assets of the joint library in case of dissolution of the joint library.
  9. The method by which annual budgets will be formulated and costs apportioned among the participating municipalities.
  10. If the proposed joint library territory lies in 2 or more counties that are not in the same system, the agreement must designate the system in which the joint library will participate (In Wisconsin).
  11. Submit proposed plan to the governing bodies of each participating municipality for approval.
  12. Submit proposed plan to county board of supervisors for approval. (if appropriate for your state).
  13. Submit proposed plan to the state library agency for an opinion regarding the desirability and feasibility of the plan.
  14. Draw up legal joint library agreement incorporating provisions of plan.
  15. Submit final plan and joint library agreement to municipalities for action and appointment of library board members.


Legal & Documentary Information

  1. Name of Proposed District
  2. Current budget of library
  3. Proposed first year budget of library
  4. [List participant amounts individually]
  5. Names of proposed participant municipalities
  6. Statutory authority for district
  7. Municipality designated as legal custodian of funds.
  8. System of which joint library will be a member
  9. Grade level certification of director (if required by state law)
  10. Number of proposed trustees for joint library [List participants individually]

Plan Sections

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Mission Statement
  3. Committee Membership [list members of the planning committee that developed this document]
  4. Brief History of Library Development           [Provide a history of the library (or libraries) that is the basis of the proposed joint library]
  5. Current Library Services         [list current circulation, attendance, collection and other input and output data for the current library operation]
  6. Current Funding Of Library Services [provide a 3 to 5 year summary of past funding for the library]
  7. Proposed Revenue Collection Formula          [indicate the specific formula that will be used for allocating all elements of the joint library budget.  Include data on how operating budget will be apportioned, of course, but also indicate how present and future capital budgets, building maintenance budgets and employee fringe benefit costs will be apportioned]
  8. Proposed Resolution for Budget Impasse  [Provide a specific methodology that is proposed for resolving disagreements between the municipalities on operating and capital budgets]
  9. Provide Impact statement  [Indicate the impact that the proposed merger is projected to have on funding and usage patterns in the county and the region.  Include letters or reports from the system and the county on feasibility.]
  10. Relations with Other Libraries.
  11. Funding Formulas (if any) – Often regional or county funding programs for non-resident borrowing or interlibrary loan will be disrupted by newly formed districts.  The impacts should be outlined here.
  12. Regional Library System Opinion on Feasibility (if any)
  13. County Opinion on Feasibility (if appropriate)
  14. Tax Base – All Municipalities [Provide a current summary of the tax base (Property Valuations) for the participants in the proposed joint library over the last several years] (if appropriate).  If the tax revenue source will be income or sales tax, as is the case in a few states, indicate the appropriate numbers for fiscal capacity of the proposed district.)
  15. Standards For Libraries   [Provide a listing of how the current and projected joint library compare to the numerical requirements for state and county library standards- if there are no state standards, it is possible to use the Percentile comparisons in this book as benchmarks].
  16. State Standards (if any)
  17. County or regional standards (if any)
  18. Buildings.  [Describe the building in which the joint  or district library will be housed.  Include relevant data regarding square feet, collection capacity, parking, and so forth.  Also indicate who will own the building and how physical assets will be distributed in the event of dissolution]
  19. Contracts, Bylaws, etc.  [Attach copies of proposed bylaws and contracts.  Indicate whether they have been reviewed by the relevant municipalities, county board, and the library division]

Joint Library Planning Checklist

The responses to all of the items here should be yes.


There has been an assessment of the impact the proposed merger will have on the funding and usage patterns of neighboring libraries.

All parties have reviewed any existing planning documents, and there is agreement on established priorities.
A preliminary study of the feasibility and suitability of the joint library program for the community has been conducted, including the review of alternatives to establishing a combined library.
Concerned community groups have examined the proposed joint library and are aware of the range of services and costs involved.
The municipal governing boards that will fund the program have defined their responsibilities in a formal agreement drawn up during the planning phase.
Counsels for the participating municipalities, the public library system, and the state library agency have reviewed the agreement noted above.
If a town is merging with an existing library, has the county board been consulted?
Legal Issues
The library will be established in accordance with relevant state laws.
A legally appointed and constituted public library board will govern the operation of the public library program.
The method and number of appointments to the board by each municipality has been determined and there is an agreed upon method in the contract for changing the number of appointments if the relative funding levels of the parties changes enough to warrant such a change.
The public library board will have exclusive control of the expenditure of all moneys collected, donated, or appropriated for the public library fund.  One of the constituent municipalities will have custody (in many states library boards, even joint ones cannot handle public funds directly but must do so through a municipality).
The public library board will employ a library director who is qualified and maintains the appropriate level of certification under the provisions stated in state law (if any).
Is there a clear definition of how legal counsel will be provided?  There should be provision for allocating indirect costs if legal advice is received through one of the participating municipalities.
General procedures for operating the combined library have been discussed, and all parties agree on principal elements, such as hours of operation, responsibility for expenses, access to resources and activities, user rights and responsibilities, and authority for daily decision making.
The public library will be a member of the regional public library system (if any) and actively participate in its programs of service, including reciprocal borrower’s privileges and interlibrary loans.
The public library board will follow statutory requirements regarding fiscal year, audits, budgeting process, and annual reports to the municipal governing authority and the state library agency.
The proposed contract clearly spells out a defined process, timetable and notice requirements for any dissolution.
The building that will house the proposed combined public library is in compliance with the provisions of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The building provides adequate space to implement the full range of library services consistent with the library’s comprehensive long-range plan, and appropriate State Public Library Standards (if any).
The contract clearly identifies who owns the building, land, equipment and other tangible assets.  Clear provision is made in the contract for dispersal of all tangible assets in the case of dissolution of the agreement.
Improving service, rather than saving money, is the overriding concern in planning a combined library.
The agreement will provide for a library in compliance with necessary state statutes for funding.  [1]
The contract clearly specifies the respective liabilities for legal claims and judgments made against the library, especially as regards the amounts beyond any insurance coverage obtained by the library.
Is there a clearly established contractual method for determining the total amount of annual operating and capital budgets?  This should include provision for what happens if one municipality agrees to a library board proposal and the other party or parties do not.  The contract clearly identifies needed deadlines, timetables, and procedures.
The contract defines for which employment purposes the staff are to be considered employees of the library or one or the other of the constituent municipalities.   Human resource professionals and legal counsel should be consulted so that employee as well as employer rights and privileges are properly considered.  [2]
Does the contract define the share of state and federal retirement costs attributable to each participating municipality?
Does the contract define the shares of unfunded pension liability (if any) attributable to each participating municipality?
Is there a clear delineation regarding the personnel policy for the library staff?  This should include grievance policies, severance conditions, and necessary requirements regarding state and federal laws for equal employment, ADA requirements and so forth.

[1] In Wisconsin does the agreement recognize the requirements for exemption from the county library levy and funding at the average of three prior years as defined in ss 43.64 of Wisconsin Statutes?

[2] In some instances for purposes of retirement funds, unemployment compensation or worker’s compensation, states require employees to be listed as employees of municipality rather than of a joint library instrumentality.  Check with legal counsel